What is the future of highway transportation in America? Here in Tennessee we've been hearing some about the T word lately -- tolls. They are discussing a new toll bridge across the Mississippi River and have flagged several other state corridors as proposed toll roads. General aviation pilots have been standing firm against a near constant threat of "user fees" for several years now, but should they also be concerned with fees driving to the airport?
Check out this message from transportation secretary Mary Peters announcing the new website from DOT, which seems to lay out a future of user fees to fund the highway system under the premise that more hybrid cars (or even hydrogen replacements, air cars, etc) would greatly reduce the contributions to the gas tax funding method. It's a legitimate concern.
But it's something that if not done correctly will spark fear and conspiracies, especially when they talk about using RFD chips in vehicles to track usage so they can be tolled in "congestion pricing" corridors and such. The government would do well to tread lightly moving forward.
For example, here in Tennessee we've been watching as they erect overhead message boards along the interstates with other equipment on poles. Yes, it's probably for disseminating traffic, weather and safety information, but the PR campaign has been lacking, which invites speculation. I snapped a picture recently..
It's blank, and ripe for Photo-shopping. How about, "welcome to Memphis, we hope you don't get shot." Think the Chamber of Commerce would go for it?
Anyway, using a fee-for-service method isn't necessarily bad, although liberals will complain it's regressive, putting undue burden on poor drivers. Private pilots have used a similar argument (although few are poor), saying user fees would mainly benefit the deeper pocketed airlines. But these things can be worked out in due course. The bigger concern is the idea of tracking vehicle movements, for obvious reasons.